The Basset Griffon Vendéen Club
SEIZURING AND EPILEPSY
Seizures or epilepsy is known to occur in both Petits and Grands. The
following may help you to understand a little about seizures.
What is a Seizure or Epilepsy?
Seizures are one of the most frequently reported neurological
conditions in dogs. The scientific term for seizure is "ictus"
though, put simply, it can be described as an electrical storm within the brain
which translates into a range of physical symptoms depending on the severity of
the attack. A seizure may also be called a convulsion or fit and is a
temporary involuntary disturbance of normal brain function that is usually
accompanied by uncontrollable muscle activity. Mild symptoms
may show as a temporary loss of consciousness and awareness from
which the dog slowly recovers, appearing somewhat dazed. At the other end
of the range, the dog may have a fit with severe convulsions
and loss of control of bladder and bowels. This may last several
minutes followed by a slow dazed recovery. Epilepsy is used to describe repeated episodes of seizures.
With epilepsy, the seizures can be single or may occur in clusters, and they
can be infrequent and unpredictable or may take place at regular intervals.
What causes a Seizure?
There are many causes of seizures, such as: * Adverse reaction to medication * Stress * Eating poison * Liver malfunction or disease * Low or high blood sugar * Kidney disease * Electrolyte problems * Anaemia * Head injury * Encephalitis * Strokes * Brain cancer or tumour * Some tick borne diseases
Seizures often occur at times of changing brain activity, for example during
excitement or feeding, or as the dog is falling asleep or waking up. Affected
dogs can appear completely normal between seizures.
What is Idiopathic Epilepsy?
Only when all the above have been eliminated as possible causes can the
diagnosis of Idiopathic Epilepsy due to a genetic abnormality be
determined. Idiopathic epilepsy is the most common cause of seizures in
the dog. As an inherited disorder, its exact cause remains
What happens when a dog has a Seizure?
Seizures consist of three components:
1. The pre-ictal phase, or aura, is a period of altered behaviour in
which the dog may hide, appear nervous, or seek out the owner. It may be
restless, nervous, whining, shaking, or salivating. This may last a few seconds
to a few hours. This period precedes the seizure activity, as if the dog senses
that something is about to occur.
2. The ictal phase is the seizure itself and lasts from a few seconds to
up to five minutes. During a seizure, the dog may lose consciousness or may
just have a change in mental awareness ("absence" seizures or
hallucinations such as snapping at invisible objects). If the dog experiences a
grand mal, or full-blown seizure with loss of consciousness, all of the muscles
of the body contract spastically and erratically. The dog usually falls over on
its side and paddles its legs while seeming to be otherwise paralysed. The head
will often be drawn backwards. Urination, defecation, and salivation may occur.
If the seizure has not stopped within five minutes, the dog is said to be in
status epilepticus or prolonged seizure. Status epilepticus is considered an
immediate emergency and medical help should be sought for anti-convulsant drugs
to be administered.
3. During the post-ictal phase - the period immediately after the end of
the seizure - there is confusion, disorientation, salivation, pacing,
restlessness, or even temporary blindness. There is no direct correlation
between the severity of the seizure and the duration of the post-ictal phase.
Is a Seizure Painful or Dangerous for the Dog?
Despite the dramatic and violent appearance of a seizure, they are not painful,
although the dog may feel confusion and perhaps panic. Contrary to popular
belief, dogs do not swallow their tongues during a seizure. If you put
your fingers or an object into its mouth, you will not help your pet and you
run a high risk of being bitten badly or of injuring your dog. The
important thing is to keep the dog from falling or hurting itself by knocking
objects onto itself. As long as it is on the floor or ground, there is little
chance of harm occurring.
A single seizure is rarely dangerous to the dog. However, if the dog has
multiple seizures within a short period of time (cluster seizures), or if a
seizure continues for longer than a few minutes, the body temperature begins to
rise. If hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) develops secondary to a seizure,
another set of problems may have to be addressed.
When the Seizure is over, can I find out what happened? After a dog has
a seizure episode, your vet will begin by taking a thorough history,
concentrating on possible exposure to poisonous or hallucinogenic substances or
any history of head trauma. The vet will also perform a physical examination,
blood and urine tests and sometimes an ECG. These tests rule out
disorders of the liver, kidneys, heart, electrolytes and blood sugar levels. If results are normal and there has been no exposure to poison or recent
trauma, further diagnostics may be undertaken, depending on the severity and
frequency of the seizures. An MRI of the brain is likely to look at the
structure of the brain. Occasional
seizures (less frequently than once a month) are of less concern, unless they
become more frequent or more severe. In this instance, a spinal fluid
analysis may be performed.
Can Seizures be Treated or Prevented?
Treatment is usually only commenced after a dog has:
1. more than one seizure a month
2. clusters of seizures where one seizure is immediately followed
by another or
3. grand mal seizures that are severe or prolonged in duration.
The two most commonly used medications to treat seizures in dogs are
phenobarbital and potassium bromide. Research into the use of other
anticonvulsants is ongoing, and combination therapy is often used for dogs that
respond poorly to standard treatments. Once anticonvulsant medication is started, it must be given for life. There is
evidence that, if anticonvulsant medication is started and then discontinued,
the dog may have a greater risk of developing more severe seizures in the
future. Even normal dogs without a history of seizures or epilepsy may be
induced to seizure if placed on anticonvulsant medication and then abruptly
withdrawn from it. If anticonvulsant medication must be discontinued or changed
for some reason, your vet will give you specific instructions for doing this.
HOW THE BGV CLUB CAN HELP YOU IF YOUR BGV HAS A
Why should I report seizures in my BGV?
There is a long history of the Club working with the Canine Genetics section of
the Animal Health Trust to ensure cheek swabs are sent to them from the small
number of affected BGVs and their family units. This continues, despite
the AHT going into administration in 2020. Canine Genetics also
welcomed cheek swabs from older, healthy, unaffected hounds over eight
years of age, as a contributing control group known to be clear of the
condition under investigation. However in October 2017, Canine
Genetics finally confirmed that, as part of their Give a Dog a Genome
project, they had accepted information forwarded by owners of 2 GBGVs that had
epilepsy which met their criteria to sequence one of them in the hope that a
test can one day be found to help eliminate this health problem from both
GBGVs and hopefully PBGVs. This, in turn, meant the Club no longer needed
to ask owners to forward DNA samples for any healthy control cases.
What is Give a Dog a Genome?
Give a Dog a Genome launched in January 2016 with Canine Genetics, AHT,
aiming to sequence DNA from 75 different breeds of dog. The PBGV's genome
had already been sequenced as part of the research into Primary Open Angle Glaucoma,
so the BGV Club paid for the GBGV to be one of the breeds included in the GDG
project with the specific aim of finding the cause of idiopathic epilepsy in
Reported progress was that whole genome sequencing of the GBGVs' DNA
samples had been sent to a commercial laboratory for sequencing. It
was expected that the data would be made available to Canine Genetics
(formerly at the Animal Health Trust) for them to download, process and
analyse. The volume of data generated for each individual sample is extremely
large and takes 3-4 days to download and process. The sequence data
could also be shared with other scientists as they deem necessary or
helpful. Additional analysis of the data to attempt to identify any variants
that contribute to Idiopathic Epilepsy would take far longer. Despite this
intense research, it was entirely possible that Canine
Genetics would be able to identify any variants that contribute to
this condition in GBGVs. However, even if this is the case, the data would
still hopefully be used in investigations of inherited disease in other
breeds. Although the AHT is no longer in existence, it is hoped that the newly
formed Canine Genetics section will continue to send the BGV Club general GDG
updates but, apart from that, will contact the Club only if there is something
specific to the GBGV to report.
What does the Club do while waiting for the GDG
outcome? Waiting for the outcome of the Give a Dog a Genome investigations does not mean
an end to the Club's work. As the development of this disease can be very rapid
it is important that any case is still reported to a BGV Club Health Officer as
soon as possible after the symptoms are first seen. This will allow
arrangements to be made to collect a DNA sample and have further tests
carried out together with the owner's questionnaire.
These tests include: Biochemistry blood test Haematology blood test Neurological Examination (physical). This is to assess the dog's posture,
placing reflex and cranial nerves.
When not reported early enough, valuable data has often been lost when a dog
has sadly had to be put to sleep.
The BGV Club will help by subsidising tests any club member has to arrange
at the vets for any BGV that has had seizures as well as sending swabs to
Canine Genetics (formerly at the Animal Health Trust). All reports are
kept in strict confidence between the BGV Club Health Officers and Canine
Genetics, who are aware of the identity of any reported cases. It is
also important where possible to advise the affected BGV's breeder of the
What is the size of the problem?
The following number of cases have been reported within the UK in the past few
years: 2011 2 - both GBGVs 2012 5 - all GBGVs 2013 4 - 2 GBGVs, 2 PBGVs 2014 7 - 5 GBGVs, 2 PBGVs 2015 7 - 5 GBGVs, 2 PBGVs 2016 6 - 5 GBGVs, 1 PBGV 2017 1 - 1 GBGVs, 0 PBGV 2018 3 - 3 GBGVs, 1 PBGV 2019 5 - 2 GBGVs, 3 PBGVs 2020 2 - 0 GBGVs, 2 PBGVs
Looking at the current population of BGVs of 6 years and under, epilepsy is
occurring at the rate of 1 dog in 200 or 0.50% per annum. This rate has
been remarkably constant over the last 5 years.
Canine Genetics at the AHT confirmed that, as at early 2016, they
had upwards of 60 Epilepsy cases sourced worldwide in their data bank and held
a total of 664 DNA samples for BGVs.
SEEING YOUR BGV HAVE A SEIZURE IS AN UNPLEASANT AND UPSETTING EXPERIENCE.LET US KNOW - WE ARE HERE TO SUPPORT YOU.